Rookie Rudež steals the show at Pacers FanJam

Almost 8,000 fans turned out for the Pacers annual FanJam event at Bankers Life Fieldhouse

Almost 8,000 fans turned out for the Pacers annual FanJam event at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Damjan Rudež stole the show Sunday at the Pacers’ annual FanJam, a free event for fans to get a close-up look at the team before the season tips off.

The 28-year-old Croatian did an admirable job singing Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” in front of the approximately 7,800 fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“He nailed it,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said afterwards. “He had the dance down. He had every word down, every lyric. Just a great show. Maybe the best rookie initiation that we’ve had.”

With enough on his plate — new country, new surroundings, new team, and new rules — this week as the Pacers opened camp, Rudež and the other rookies didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for one of the favorite events at FanJam.

“I didn’t really have a lot of time to practice the song because training camp and all is really hard and I didn’t really have a lot of energy to practice it. But the last couple of days, I had to do it because I knew I had to put up a good performance,” said Rudež, who was sporting a big grin while he signed autographs for fans.

Shayne Whittington, who was outwardly nervous all week for his performance, made it easier on Rudež.

“Shayne broke the ice for me,” Rudež said. “It was easier because he went first. It was OK.”

Making the task even more challenging was the fact that Rudež had never heard the song until “maybe like four days ago,” he explained. “It was really a challenge.” Paul George, who he sat beside during the autograph session, was the one that assigned him the song.

“At first, I thought it was really really hard,” Rudež continued. “Then, after listening to it a couple of times, I figured if I made it through the chorus that I would be good.”

And he was, as you can see below.

Whittington, an undrafted free agent out of Western Michigan, was so relieved to have this, one of many rookie duties, behind him. He sang to “Latch” by Disclosure.

“I am so excited [to have it over with],” he said. “Trust me. Last night I literally had a nightmare about it. It was bad. It was really bad, and made me very nervous.”

Paul George, who helped Chris Denari emcee the festivities, joked that guys had been practicing in the shower the last couple of days.

“I’m not at liberty to say,” Whittington wisely answered. Better for the rookie not to name names. Even though he didn’t have all the lyrics down, he still did well, entertained, and showed off some dance moves.

The third and final act was C.J. Fair out of Syracuse. Though he didn’t have “Shake It Off,” by Taylor Swift memorized, he was a good sport about it. Once it was clear that he didn’t know the lyrics, the DJ put on a hip-hop track and Fair’s teammates called for him to showcase his dance moves. He obliged.


Earlier Sunday, the Pacers competed their sixth day and ninth practice of training camp. Vogel and his team were happy to have FanJam, always a fun event, to break their routine. Last year, it wasn’t until late October because of the team’s trip overseas.

“Guys have been beating on each other a lot in training camp and to get a light day like this is a welcome thing,” Vogel said. “Hopefully our fans enjoyed it.”

The players gave them plenty of reasons to cheer.

1. Scrimmage

They first divided up in teams for a short — like really short — scrimmage. After falling behind 8-4 at intermission, the blue team came back to win the meaningless game/show for the fans, 19-13.

McMillan (left) helps this young man coach.

Third-string point guard Donald Sloan ended the game in an exciting fashion by burying a triple. There were going to win regardless.

  • C.J. Watson was not involved in any of the challenges. He has a sore right foot from Saturday’s practice.
  • Lavoy Allen completed a nice 3-point play.
  • Backup center Ian Mahinmi played for a full 30-minutes with the team on Saturday and started in the scrimmage. He was being held out of contact work at the start of camp due to his left shoulder injury.
  • Chris Copeland and Damjan Rudež, playing for opposing teams, sank back-to-back 3-pointers. It’ll be fun to watch those to duel it out and provide outside scoring. Copeland said they haven’t had a head-to-head 3-point battle in practice yet.
  • During the scrimmage, there were two honorary kid coaches. There was a cool moment in front of me where Pacers associate head coach Nate McMillan told him, “Tell Copeland to rebound!”

2. 3-point Shootout

Paul George assisted Chris Denari emcee the different challenges.

This was one of the most interesting contests of the evening. In the first season, George Hill beat C.J. Miles, 19-15, and Chris Copeland disposed of Damjan Rudež, 17-13.

So, once again, it was a Hill-Copeland final.

“Yeah, he beat me last year,” Copeland, who knocked off Hill 23-21, recalled. “I remember he beat me in the finals last year. It was fun. He’s a great shooter. That’s what it’s all about. Two good shooters going at it and having a good time for the fans.”

3. Tic-Tac-Toe

You’ve seen this game before during timeouts. Adonis Thomas and Whittington paired up and handled the veteran duo of Rodney Stuckey and Ian Mahinmi.

4. Sumo Race

I think Solomon Hill and Lavoy Allen took longer to dress than to race each other around the court in sumo outfits. The 6-foot-9 Allen couldn’t even get in the outfit and thus was slowed down mightily.

5. Skills Challenge

Mahinmi wore his black undershirt Sunday, which helps his injured (left) shoulder.

This event consisted of two teams of four players each. The challenge was to see which team could make a hit a layup, free throw, 3-pointer, and half-court shot first. Each player was assigned one shot, listed below in order.

Blue Team: Stuckey, West, Rudež, G. Hill
White Team: Sloan, Hibbert, Copeland, Miles

The Blue Team, thanks to Hill’s lob from mid-court, got the win.

6. Knockout – From 3-Point Range

Roy Hibbert stood out above everyone in this one. I bet he made a half-dozen and finished second to Solomon Hill. The other Hill, George, and Rudež rounded out the Final Four.

After the on-court festivities, the players spread out in various locations of the building to sign autographs, take pictures, and interact with fans.

“This is what it’s all about,” said Copeland, who was experiencing his second FanJam. “This is why we play the game and put on a good show for our fans. For me, I think that’s what it’s all about. To come out here and see all these smiling faces makes my day every time.”

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